Screenshot of the Global Humanitarian Assistance interactive guide
Well done: The new interactive guide by Development Initiatives places the aid recipient in the center.

All stations to aid: Global Humanitarian Assistance’s new interactive guide

17 January, 2013 | Conflict & Emergencies

I’m quite a fan of the Global Humanitarian Assistance reports produced every year by the Development Initiatives think tank. They combine invaluable data on funding with thoughtful commentary on what is and is not changing in the humanitarian world. So I was pretty excited to see last week that they’ve launched a new ‘interactive guide to humanitarian financing’.

Anything that can make humanitarian financing less befuddling is welcome, and the guide certainly does that. Click on it and you’ll be taken through 3 opening pages towards the wealth of funding data on the GHA site. Like half the infographics on the planet, it seems, the main page looks like a map of a subway, metro or, as we say in London, ‘tube’ system.

Even Shakespeare's characters can be presented on a "tube map". © The Royal Shakespeare Company

These days every possible issue, it appears, can be represented in such a way, from schools of modern art and 20th century music to – just for example – the plays and characters of Shakespeare.

Too simple?

Most of these maps are as complicated as they are colorful. But GHA’s is pretty simple, showing seven clear lines delivering humanitarian aid to the ‘aid recipient’ placed, quite rightly, in the center. And as Hamlet would have said, perhaps there’s the rub.

For interacting with the GHA guide, I couldn’t help thinking that some of it seemed perhaps a little bit too simple. From the main map, it looks as if UN agencies give as directly to beneficiaries as local government or civil society. Some of the ‘train lines’ more or less work as a sequence, delivering funds station-by-station closer to the recipient; but none of them perfectly, and some are really just lists. Unlike the Shakespeare map, they show none of the complexity that, for example, governments fund UN agencies to fund NGOs to fund someone who might actually meet a recipient.

Another page shows the direct and indirect channels for aid – but from the donor's, not the recipient’s point of view. And some of the information on ‘stations’ (aka donors) is more helpful than others. The guide is very honest about the lack of data on – but great importance of – local and national governments and civil society. But it rather too glibly says that international military forces provide a ‘substantial addition to the resources and assets deployed by humanitarian organizations’. "Yes, but…" would be a kind response; and, to be fair, on a later page there is far more detail on the costs and disadvantages of such assistance.

A timely, useful, even entertaining reminder

All in all, the guide is very worth looking at. As GHA says, it’s something to evolve, and I’m sure they’ll consider whether their users could find their way round a more complex subway system in the future.

For now, let’s just remember a couple of things that the guide and GHA’s data beyond it reveal:

  1. Many donors’ economic woes are really now biting – and the gap between the humanitarian aid needed and provided is widening.
  2. All the talk about resilience has not yet translated into a decent proportion of ODA invested to reduce the risk of disasters. Between 2006 and 2010, it was less than a woeful 1%.

In 2011, governments promised to ‘prioritize the building of resilience among people and societies at risk… and increase the resources, planning and skills for disaster management’, at the Busan aid conference. Little could now be more vital. While at the same time humanitarian aid to today’s crises must be sustained even in the most difficult economic times. Despite my quibbles above, GHA’s new guide is a timely, useful, even entertaining reminder of that need.

Related links

The interactive guide to humanitarian financing by GHA

Oxfam's work on aid effectiveness

Where Oxfam is responding to emergencies


The Funding Map

There are many complications when it comes to funding. I'm not sure that funding will pick up much while the economy is struggling, unfortunately.

Sarah Sorenson

Who's who?

Hi Ed. Thanks so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful post in response to our infographic – and for the generous comments.  Thanks also for raising these really interesting issues – from both a design and content perspective.

We’ve long since harboured an ambition to visually map out the path of humanitarian financing from donor to recipient – and to put a dollar value on each one of the lines. As you’ve pointed out, the relationships are so complicated, and the humanitarian dollar is spent more than once. We’ve tried so many times to come up with a map that’s accurate, intuitive *and* clear. On paper at least, we seem to either end up with something accurate yet so complicated you can’t read it (or so messy you don’t want to look at it but which at least demonstrates the complexity), or something way too simple to be of any use! I think the nearest we came to getting the lines right was probably p15 of the GHA Update, February 2010,  – though we didn’t get as far putting values on the lines. We also had a go here. In terms of the visual we’re commenting on today, I think we oversold it as an ‘infographic’, and certainly as an ‘interactive’ one  – as we were just really using it as a way of visually displaying some information about the main stakeholders in international response. We took a simple design that we started using in the printed version of the GHA Report 2010 (p128), modified it slightly for the GHA Report 2012 and digitised it.

However, designing online obviously gives you way more possibilities. And I’m wondering if there’d be any value in having some kind of opening this up to some kind of competition or collaborative effort? It would be pretty exciting to show information and reporting flows too. (A colleague showed me this on migration flows earlier, and I felt a bit envious: I wonder if we would add some understanding and insight if we could achieve something similar?

We actually got as far as conceptualising a modest system for bringing some interactivity to the financing channels and mechanisms guide (beyond what you see here) and have quite a lot of material on it. We had envisaged people being able to select how they would finance humanitarian crises depending on who they were. For example: “I work within a small humanitarian department at national government level: what are the financing mechanisms available to me?” or “How do I contribute to the UN CERF fund?”A lot of the research has been done – I’m just adding some detail.

With regard to your comments about humanitarian aid – don’t you think the role of the whole of ODA should be underpinning security/livelihoods and reducing risk of disasters? Not just a fraction of the one-tenth of ODA that is spent on ‘humanitarian’ crises?

And while we’re on the subject of ODA, can I put in a plug for some work undertaken by colleagues at Development Initiatives? Our latest analysis of ODA figures from the DAC show a slight rise in overall expenditure in 2011. (If you’re interested in ODA figures, you might like to keep an eye on the site as we’re hoping to issue an update of our essential Guide to Official Development Assistance in the next few weeks.)

Many thanks again Ed. Really interested to hear what you and readers of this blog think.

News just in: check this out!

y, I think we oversold it as

y, I think we oversold it as an ‘infographic’, and certainly as an ‘interactive’ one  – as we were just really using it as a way of visually displaying some information about the main stakeholders in international response. katalog stron